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Objective: To determine whether the location of spondylolysis in the lumbar spine of athletes differs with biomechanical factors.
Methods: Single photon emission computerised tomography and reverse gantry computerised tomography were used to investigate 42 cricketers and 28 soccer players with activity related low back pain. Sites of increased scintigraphic uptake in the posterior elements of the lumbar spine and complete or incomplete fracture in the pars interarticularis were compared for these two sports.
Results: Thirty seven (90.4%) cricketers and 23 (82.1%) soccer players studied had sites of increased uptake. In cricketers, these sites were on the left of the neural arch of 49 lumbar vertebrae and on the right of 33 vertebrae. In soccer players there was a significantly different proportion, with 17 sites on the left and 28 on the right (difference of 22.0%; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.04 to 0.38). Lower lumbar levels showed increased scintigraphic uptake more frequently than did higher levels, although the trend was reversed at L3 and L4 in soccer. Forty spondylolyses were identified in the lumbar vertebrae of the cricketers and 35 spondylolyses in the soccer players. These comprised 26 complete and 14 incomplete fractures in the cricketers, and 25 complete and 10 incomplete fractures in the soccer players. Similar numbers of incomplete fractures were found either side of the neural arch in soccer players, but there were more incomplete fractures in the left pars (14) than in the right (2) in cricketers. The proportion of incomplete fractures either side of the neural arch was significantly different between cricket players and soccer players (difference of 37.5%; 95% CI 0.02 to 0.65). Most complete fractures were at L5 (66.7%) and more were found at L3 (15.7%) than L4 (6.9%). However, incomplete fractures were more evenly spread though the lower three lumbar levels with 41.7% at L5, 37.5% at L4, and 20.8% at L3.
Conclusions: Fast bowling in cricket is associated with pars interarticularis bone stress response and with development of incomplete stress fractures that occur more frequently on the left than the right. Playing soccer is associated with a more symmetrical distribution of bone stress response, including stress fracturing. Within cricketers, unilateral spondylolyses tend to arise on the contralateral side to the bowling arm.